The question facing Manchester City fans is, do they believe their proverbial glass to be half full or half empty, as their team of defending champions complete more than a quarter of their Premier League fixtures?
Theirs is a team with the only unbeaten record in the PL this season – actually stretching back to 16 games – and horror of horrors, they failed to score against a resolute West Ham United, the first time they’ve not registered a goal in seven months and 21 ‘competitive’ outings (if you count the Community Shield win over Chelsea).
Roberto Mancini himself, as well as his team and the wider Manchester City Football Club, could be forgiven for having something of a persecution complex as a pernicious press corps keep coming after them with malice aforethought.
Paranoid? Maybe, but if so, with damn good reason.
A 0-0 draw in the East End against Sam Allardyce’s stoical side is not the worst result of the season – not even the worst result of the weekend – and yet the media indulge in vitriol and lies against City.
ESPN’s commentary team of Jon Champion and Chris Waddle launched a loathsome barrage against Mario Balotelli throughout their live observations at Upton Park. Snide and obsessive, one can only hope BT will cut off their puerile petty murmurings when they take over the ESPN contract next season.
That bastion of high quality journalism – spot the irony – The Daily Star, delighted in a ‘James Milner in Mancini row’ headline, claiming the England star was angered during the pre-match warm up at not being in the team.
Milner had actually damaged a hamstring pre-kick off and was unable to take his place having been selected – LIES LIES LIES!
Why don’t City start banning publications who pay journalists to write fictional bile about the club? Fergie’s been banning them from his Carrington press conferences and Old Trafford matches for years…and that’s when journalists have been writing the truth!
Anyway, back to the football. City drew a blank for the first time since losing to Arsenal 1-0 on Easter Sunday. It was their first scoreless encounter since Boxing Day at WBA. Conversely City’s defence recorded consecutive clean sheets in the PL for the first time.
Less than a month ago the City hating hacks were banging on about a leaky defence and an inability to shut out opponents. There’s no pleasing some folk.
Mancini, once again hindered by an extensive injury list had already lost Joleon Lescott with a back strain before Milner’s late mishap. With Micah Richards out and Pablo Zabaleta lacking match fitness, Kolo Toure was the surprise choice at right back, whereas Mitija Nastasic was the obvious choice to partner Vincent Kompany.
Yet more defensive permutations but unavoidable.
With City’s creative talisman David Silva still recovering from a knock sustained on international duty, Mancini opted for a three man attack of Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli.
City’s primary striker Sergio Aguero was safeguarded on the sub’s bench in readiness for Ajax in the Champions League ‘do or die’ tie on Tuesday night.
Ultimately this was a game dominated by City – the second half in particular – but for all their attacking intent the star spangled, much fangled Manchester forwards failed to execute some neat approach work.
Balotelli had the best opportunities but his profligacy in front of goal should not be used to further criticize this oft misunderstood young man. He enjoys a unique ‘father-to-son’ relationship with Mancini, but the City boss often singles his prodigy out for negative comment.
From an outsider’s perspective one wonders if this is the best way of maximizing Mario’s undoubted talent.
Had it not been for an error from the officials City could have been leaving with their bubble well and truly popped. Kevin Nolan’s fourth minute disallowed strike was onside.
How City would have reacted to going behind is something we will never know. Allardyce was courteous and pragmatic enough to suggest it would have galvanized the champions into victory.
In truth City should have won but it would have been harsh on the Hammers’ dogged defensive display, along with Andy Carroll and Matt Jarvis who provided whatever menace West Ham could muster.
The only tangible winner of the evening was Carlos Tevez – now back in favour at City and never out of it with the West Ham fans, winning warm applause when his name rang out on the tannoy at kick off and when substituted in the 84th minute for Javi Garcia.
This was a creditable draw against a team doing surprisingly well back in the PL. City cannot and will not win every game but, at just two points off the top and with a rapidly clearing injury list, the Blue Moon Brigade should soon be raising their glasses to renewed success.